Eight firearms new maximum

Piret Lakson
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Photo: Reuters / Scanpix

The Ministry of Internal Affairs has sent to the Government Office a bill to amend the Weapons Act, according to which individuals holding a weapons permit and owning firearms for the purpose of protection of self and property can own a maximum of eight firearms.

The ministry last introduced the amendment in late 2015, while proceedings were interrupted due to several questionable items in the draft legislation. Opposition was strongest regarding a proposal to amend that would have allowed people to own a single firearm, either a pistol or revolver, for personal protection.

If today any person who has passed the weapons exam and secured a permit can own an unlimited number of firearms for the purpose of self-defense, the single weapon condition came off too strict and even absurd for gun owners. The interior minister's working group decided to drop the plan and look for a compromise in early 2016. Now the limit will be set at eight firearms. The exact same limit existed in the law prior to the entry into force of the current Weapons Act in 2001.

“Eight guns should be enough for anyone to cover their various households. We believe that anything after that falls under collecting that is subject to stricter conditions,” said head of the law enforcement and criminal policy department of the ministry Veiko Kommusaar.

People with nine of more firearms – who currently number just four in Estonia – have to apply for a collector's license from the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) that introduces a set of much more stringent requirements for storing of weapons. A collector of firearms must have a weapons cabinet with a burglar alarm for example.

Amendment of the weapons act is tied to changes in the international security situation – the migration crisis and terrorist attacks in Europe have made it necessary to analyze and make more efficient Estonia's weapons policy.

“The principal aim of the bill is to introduce better grounds for refusal to issue or revocation of weapons permits based on security considerations,” Kommusaar said.

Owners of firearms for personal protection will have to justify their need. If currently people only have to justify why they need a firearm when applying for their first weapon, the amendment would  extent the obligation to each consecutive weapon. In other words, persons who already own a gun for personal protection will have to explain to a police officer why that is not enough and why they need more firearms.

The burden of justification will also apply every time a person's weapons permit is extended. Officials can refuse permits if they find explanations to be unconvincing.

“This requirement helps owners of firearms to analyze their need and consider whether they still require a weapon when applying for an extension,” Kommusaar explained.

"In addition, people who own firearms only for personal protection will have to undergo the weapons examination every five years. “The aim of this obligation is to improve gun owners' ability to handle their weapons,” Kommusaar said.

When a person goes to extend a weapon permit for personal protection, a police officer can make sure they can use their firearm. The test will be conducted using the gun holder's firearm with the owner's approval.

Today, a weapons examination and a shooting range test are obligatory when applying for a weapons permit, whereas skills are not tested again after that. Such tests have been mandatory for shooting athletes and hunters for years.

The amendment will abolish the obligation to present newly purchased firearms to police officers during registration of the weapon at the local police station. This should lower the administrative workload of officials and service centers and boost security in terms of having fewer armed people in offices.

Estonia had 27,474 gun owners as of the first week of January who owned a total of 68,945 firearms. The latter can be purchased, owned, and held for hunting, protection of self and property, sports, professional use, and collection. The current record-holder has bought 17 firearms for personal protection.